Though saxophonist/vocalist Mindi Abair's last album was 2010's In Hi-Fi Stereo, she's been exceptionally busy as a touring and session musician. Wild Heart picks up where that record left off, albeit in a much rowdier, grimier fashion. It is a self-penned collection of (mostly) ramped-up, funky soul, R&B, and rock tunes, with hints of contemporary jazz thrown in. Its sound is crunchy, fat, and greasy. Electric guitars and bass are mixed right up front with her alto, tenor, and baritone saxes. Abair also enlisted a slew of all-star guests from across the pop spectrum. The slamming, funky, brass- and reed-drenched "Amazing Game" is a tribute to NOLA R&B and jazz and actively engages its other soloist, Trombone Shorty. The chart is tight and meaty and the horn breaks and dueling solos soar. The title track is a grainy modern take on soul-jazz with wah-wah guitars, B-3, and her alto, tenor, and baritone horns framed by Todd Simon's trumpet and Elizabeth Lea's trombone. The single "Haute Sauce" features grimy, old-school (as in Junior Walker) R&B and contains both a stellar alto break and a killer piano solo from Dave Yaden. Aerosmith's Joe Perry lends very basic (a good thing) yet roaring guitar chops to "Kick Ass." It's all riffing and screaming alto dueling with frenetic, in-the-red drumming by Jake Najor. "The Shakedown," with Max Weinberg and Waddy Wachtel, recalls mid-'60s rave-up discotheques and TV themes from teen dance shows. "Addicted to You" is a bluesy, slow-grooving quartet affair with Booker T. Jones on B-3. A couple of tunes don't work; predictably, they are vocal numbers such as "I Can't Lose" and "Train," where Abair's thin voice -- even multitracked -- is no match for the massive sonic attack she assembles. That said, the one place it does succeed is on the closer, "Just Say When," a vocal duet with Gregg Allman. Sans horns, the skeletal tune is framed by a basic rock band playing an effortless meld of Southern Americana and soul. Allman is in excellent voice and Abair's emotive, reedy contralto is the perfect counterpart. It's a hell of a way to end a record. As a whole, Wild Heart builds considerably on the strengths of In Hi-Fi Stereo, and is a much stronger effort overall. Though it pays unapologetic tribute to retro inspirations, it does so with 21st century sophistication, a gritty, raucous spirit, and exceptional creative imagination.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek